A night of joy and mayhem in Barcelona

On top of the world: No team had ever come back from four goals down before Barcelona. © PA

On Wednesday night Barcelona defeated Paris Saint-Germain 6–1 to complete one of sport’s most extraordinary comebacks. Is this why football is the world’s most popular sport?

“All around me, people were hugging, jumping, screaming. Grown men were crying and strangers were leaping into each other’s arms.”

This was how the BBC’s Andy West described the scenes when Barcelona, with 30 seconds of the match to go, scored their sixth goal to complete what their midfielder Ivan Rakitić called an “impossible” comeback as they knocked Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) out of the UEFA Champions League.

At one point, Barça had drifted to 200/1 outsiders to qualify. Now they are the favourites to win the competition.

Just seven minutes earlier, all hope had appeared to be lost. Needing to overturn a 4–0 deficit, Barcelona had raced into a 3–0 lead. But then PSG scored a vital away goal just after the hour mark. Barcelona needed to score three goals all over again.

Their Brazilian superstar Neymar took over. Proving his status as the heir to Lionel Messi, he scored a perfect free-kick to keep the flame of hope alive. Then a penalty. Then, with 95,000 Catalans roaring their heroes on, he chipped a pass towards homegrown substitute Sergi Roberto, who volleyed it past PSG’s goalkeeper. Pandemonium.

Suddenly people were running about in all directions. Tears of joy from Barcelona fans were matched by tears of agony from the PSG players, who were said to be “completely stunned” by what had happened.

For many viewers, it epitomised the magic of football. Two fantastic teams in a historic arena. Genius and chaos. Suspense, drama and disbelief. Quoting Sir Alex Ferguson, The Telegraph’s Jason Burt simply tweeted: “Football. Bloody hell.”

Football is comfortably the world’s most popular sport. In Africa, South America, most of Europe and much of Asia, people really do care about what happens when Barcelona or Manchester United play.

Are matches like this blockbuster really what makes the sport so special?

Hit for six

This was footballing perfection, say some. So often the sport grabs the headlines for the wrong reasons: overpriced tickets, cheating, violence; but matches make you forget about all that. No other sport can generate moments of such unlikely astonishment between two of the best sides in the world. It was, as the Independent’s Miguel Delaney put it, “sublime, ridiculous and historic”.

But even in this match football’s dark side was evident. Ticket prices were too high, and Luis Suarez dived to win a penalty. What really makes football special are its everyday humdrum qualities. The father driving his son to practice on a Saturday morning; the fan who travels across the country to watch his team draw 0–0; the fact that it is a simple game which everyone can play for themselves. That is why football is so loved around the world.

You Decide

  1. What makes football the most popular sport in the world?
  2. Was Barcelona’s victory the greatest comeback in sporting history?

Activities

  1. Take a vote in your class. Each person names their favourite and least favourite sport.
  2. Write a short story entitled “The Comeback”.

Some People Say...

“It is bizarre that people get so excited by football.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not interested in football. Why does this matter to me?
If you do not like football, then it is even more interesting to consider why so many people like it. And this is a wider question that goes beyond football. It is a debate over whether superlatives represent the best life has to offer, or whether everyday pleasures are, in fact, more special.
So will Barcelona go on and win the competition?
Perhaps, but their abysmal performance in the first leg cannot be ignored, and they came within 30 seconds of an early elimination. They will face stiff competition from eternal domestic rivals Real Madrid, as well as five-time winners Bayern Munich, and there are fears that Lionel Messi is not quite the player he once was.

Word Watch

Paris Saint-Germain
PSG are the only team of any significant size from the French capital. For years, they had underachieved, but in 2011 they were bought by wealthy owners from Qatar. They have won the French league four times in a row, although they may lose that crown to Monaco this year.
UEFA Champions League
Formerly called the European Cup, the UEFA Champions League is Europe’s foremost continental competition. Last year’s winners were Real Madrid.
Away goal
If two teams are level after playing two matches, one home and one away, the team that has scored more goals away from home goes through. So, having won 4–0 at home, a 5–1 defeat would have been sufficient to see PSG through.
A historic arena
The Nou Camp is the largest football stadium in Europe, with a capacity of 99,354.
Sir Alex Ferguson
The manager of Manchester United from 1986 to 2013 and regarded by many as the greatest manager of all time.